It is not controversial to claim that employee happiness and contentment are important drivers to corporate success, especially in a people-based industry. However, employee happiness is rarely given the attention it deserves.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do” – Steve Jobs, Commencement speech at Stanford University, 2005.
Not only are happiness and contentment key to efficiency and effectiveness, (for example, low ‘life satisfaction’ results in up to 15 days additional sick leave per person ), they are also key retainers of talent for organisations . CIPD research shows that year-on-year workloads, stress, working hours, targets and sickness have all increased . With a rightful renewed focus on stress and mental health, businesses will need to continue to engage with this topic.
A wealth of research has materialised in this field in recent years, and with it a wealth of new concepts. These include the positive psychology of Shawn Achor , the neuroscience of leadership from David Rock , the science of happiness from Dan Gilbert  and the signs of a miserable job from Patrick Lencioni , to name but a few. The HR function is clearly the one best placed to integrate these concepts into the workplace.
Grasping the ‘why’ of the organisation
Most employees understand the ‘what’ of an organisation: the product or service that the business sells. Some employees even have an understanding of the ‘how’: how the organisation operates and how it sells the product or service. However, very few employees understand the ‘why’ of the organisation: why the organisation does what it does. Understanding the ‘why’ is fundamental to human flourishing, and something the most engaging of organisations have managed to tap into.
Some of the most iconic brands not only have their employees buying into the ‘why’, but their customers as well, allowing them to be part of something greater than the product itself. Apple is an example of this kind of organisation, originally setting out to create “tools for the mind that advance humankind”. Forming this kind of strategy and set of values that gives employees permission to find meaning in something deeper than their day-to-day work will empower and retain them.
Nurturing a positive culture through leaders and individuals
Leaders need to know how to facilitate a culture of contentment which will cascade down through the organisation . Furthermore, there has to be a sense of ownership for individuals over their career, rather than relying on line managers to act as the sole pastors for teams. By instilling a culture of employee engagement and involvement, rather than only management from leaders, as well as two-way trust and even “vulnerability” , employees will feel that they can be more transformative in the work-place, rather than simply transactional . Leaders need to take note – and not just lead by telling, but also by involving and empowering their staff, and not only because it is nice to do but because it has a bottom line business impact too, often improving employee productivity and longevity within an organisation.
What can HR do to help?
When HR is at its best, it is a vital contributor to a business’ strategy, placing people and talent at the heart of what it does, and allowing employees to buy into the ‘why’ of their employer. Furthermore, people and customer strategy alignment allows the values being instilled in the working population to be reflected in the products and services delivered. But first of all, a statement of purpose, of common values, is often needed.
In order to deliver this, HR can support the development of leaders at all levels of the organisation, whether they are just starting their careers or are veterans of the industry. Influencers should be nurtured to become the type of leaders that the organisation requires. HR should be identifying and equipping these potential leaders, as well as encouraging personal ownership over career paths.
Employee happiness is not simply a financial reward structure, it’s about cultivating a physically, mentally, emotionally and socially healthy workforce, who find purpose and meaning in their career. HR has a key role in fostering this type of culture, as well as encouraging employees and leaders to engage with their careers at an individual level. When these activities are carried out effectively, our leaders and employees will thrive.
Jon is a Consultant in Deloitte’s Human Capital practice. He has worked on several global HR transformations as well as target operating model projects across Consumer Business, FSI and Professional Services industries. He has a particular interest in how organisations engage with and support their leaders and employees.
 Harvard Business Review, 2012 January/February, ‘Positive Intelligence’ by Shawn Achor
 Engaging the 21st Century Workforce – Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014
 Employee Outlook: Focus on employee well-being – CIPD research
 ‘The happy secret to better work’ – Ted Talk by Shawn Achor
 NeuroLeadership journal, 2008, ‘SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others’ by David Rock
 ‘The surprising science of happiness’ – Ted Talk by Dan Gilbert
 ‘The three signs of a miserable job’ by Patrick Lencioni
 ‘Culture change for sceptics’ – Deloitte HR Spotlight Blog post
 ‘The power of vulnerability’ – Ted Talk by Brené Brown